Pick Of The Week: Miss Americana
Lana Wilson's film documents the coming of age moment of arguably, the world's biggest pop-star. It is the thrilling and uplifting, if somewhat cautiously told tale of Taylor Swift finally demoting the internet from having a say in her life and finding her true voice.
An unassuming young blonde plays a few chords on the piano as a tiny, even more unassuming kitten traipses across the keys. Cut to, the same blonde picking up a pink as pink can be journal that reads “my life, my career, my dreams, my reality.” A picture starts to form in your mind of this girl, surprisingly articulate and focused for a 13-year-old, today better recognised as the international megastar, Taylor Swift.
From signing her first record deal at age 15 to becoming the highest earning female musician of the 2010s, Taylor Swift is a powerhouse. In 2019 she placed at number eight on Billboard’s list of greatest artists of all time – the highest position for a 21st Century act, and was named Artist of the Decade by the American Music Awards. Swift is known for frank, narrative songs about her personal life that make her instantly relatable to fans and deliciously provocative to the media. Her meteoric rise from the world of country music to international super-star is a combination of sheer talent, raw determination and a superhuman work ethic.
In that sense, ‘Miss Americana,’ Lana Wilson’s revealing but curated portrait of the singing sensation is undeniable as an optimally timed PR piece, a modern-pop-star-confidential documentary. It is also just as undeniable as an honest and rousing look at what it takes to be considered ‘good’ in modern pop-culture. More importantly, it uncovers what it takes to feel good when you are one of the driving forces of said culture. Taylor presents herself on a platter to the world, thriving off their approval and validation; her entire value system, right from childhood, having been fuelled by a need to ‘be good,’ a candid Swift tells the camera at the very start of the film.
From that starting point, using a discreet and intimate but not invasive lens, Wilson’s Sundance premiered documentary film slowly peels back the layers of Swift’s carefully constructed public image. It follows the star through several years of her career, featuring ‘regular’ interactions with family and friends, incredible behind the scenes footage of her song-writing process, news media reports to cover Swift's most public achievements and debacles, even a raw, genuine confession to the camera about her eating disorder that plays against a flip-book of red-carpet appearances, all leading up to a poignant animated sequence about her transformative 2017 sexual harassment trial. This unlocks a Pandora’s box in the third act of the film as we see Swift shed all inhibitions and break her monolithic silence on politics by publicly backing Democrat candidates in her home state of Tennessee during the 2018 elections. Indeed one of the film’s most comical moments is when Swift, her mother and her PR strategist pop open a bottle of wine and flutter around the Instagram post, which will make this new, WOKE Taylor real to the whole world. Especially, since it follows a tense scene where an emotional yet defiant Swift holds her own while hashing out the pros and cons of ‘going public’ with her understandably protective father.
With its confectionary drenched realities, auto tuned sounds, performers who sometimes become entertainers before they are people and gossip fuelled media frenzies, when it comes to pop-culture, it is easy to be cynical. It is also easy to judge, just as it is to dismiss. The word fake is commonplace. And while all of these instincts are constantly knocking at the door as you watch Miss Americana, there is an unexpected and refreshing sincerity, both in Swift’s lived experience of her life as well as the camera’s depiction of it. And while we are used to consuming Taylor Swift the brand, seeing Taylor Swift the young woman, find her voice and use it to stand up for her choices is an uplifting, necessary experience.
And no, we are not Swifties. But we do love her politics.
Available on Netflix.